The play: Ryan Mountcastle over 1.5 TBs
Ryan Mountcastle faces Yusei Kikuchi today, but not the Kikuchi he is used to seeing. Kikuchi has had somewhat of a resurgence early this season by increasing his off-speed usage which has been decently effective. But he is still allowing plenty of barrels and hard hits, where he ranks in the 17th and 12 percentile respectively.
That should play to the strengths of Mountcastle, who also happens to be 4-for-9 with 3 home runs lifetime off Kikuchi. Even in the at-bats that were void of a result for Mountcastle, you can see plenty of 90+ MPH exit velocity. Another plus side to Mountcastle in this matchup relies in his chase rate, which ranks only in the 3rd percentile in the league and is typically the reason for his struggles in certain matchups.
A big adjustment Kikuchi has made this year has been in his walk rate, as he has only surrendered 8 in just over 41 IP so far this season. That is good for a 1.73 BB/9 compared to his whopping 5.19 of last season. Kikuchi filling the zone for a guy like Mountcastle, who sees him well is a massive asset in this matchup.
A big reason why Kikuchi has had so much success attacking hitters is his approach to right-handed batters, where he likes to work them inside. Prior to this year, it was more fastball heavy, while now it has consisted more of the slider.
By run value the slider has actually been Kikuchi’s best pitch but has been producing fortunate results with higher expected numbers and still a nearly 50% hard hit rate. Mountcastle loves hitting lefties who don’t work him too much outside, and especially ones who will leave off-speed middle-in, which is where he has gotten a good chunk of his extra-base hits this season.
Mountcastle is clearly in his better split against LHP, where he is batting .322 compared to just .211 against RHP. He also has produced five of his nine home runs and 10 of his 21 extra-base hits against lefties in only 59 of his 182 at-bats on the season.
I think Mountcastle should be able to run into one in a plus matchup against Kikuchi and possibly even a Blue Jays bullpen that he has seen a lot of.